Rep. Bruce WestermanBruce Eugene WestermanArkansas legislature splits Little Rock in move that guarantees GOP seats Interior Department to nix Trump rollback of bird protections Manchin, Barrasso announce bill to revegetate forests after devastating fires MORE (R-Ark.) is slated to serve as the top Republican on the House Natural Resources Committee for the 117th Congress after being elected by the House Republican Steering Committee on Wednesday.
Westerman — a Yale forestry school graduate who describes himself as an “engineer and forester by trade” — edged out Rep. Paul GosarPaul Anthony GosarGOP's embrace of Trump's false claims creates new perils Domestic extremists return to the Capitol Republicans keep distance from 'Justice for J6' rally MORE (R-Ariz.), the previous chair of the Western Caucus, for the ranking member position next year.
Lawmakers from Western states have typically held the top posts on the committee, though Westerman comes from a rural, natural resource-heavy district in Arkansas.
The top GOP spot is being vacated by Rep. Rob BishopRobert (Rob) William BishopGOP's Westerman looks to take on Democrats on climate change House Republicans who didn't sign onto the Texas lawsuit OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Westerman tapped as top Republican on House Natural Resources Committee | McMorris Rodgers wins race for top GOP spot on Energy and Commerce | EPA joins conservative social network Parler MORE (Utah), who is set to retire at the end of this term.
“I’m incredibly honored and humbled that the steering committee has recommended me to be the next lead Republican on the House Natural Resources Committee. Conservatives have a rich history of leading in conservation, and this committee will continue to be a battleground for energy and environmental issues,” Westerman said in a statement to The Hill.
“In the next few years, I believe we can lead the way on showing the world how market-based conservation allows our economy and environment to thrive simultaneously. I can’t wait to get started,” he added.
Westerman has been among the conservative voices calling for Republicans to lead on conservation issues, particularly as the party seeks to show it is taking action of some kind on climate change.
“I think we’ve got to retake the conservation narrative, something Republicans have been very strong on and can be stronger on in the future,” Westerman previously told The Hill.
Westerman was the sponsor of the Trillion Trees Act, which seeks to plant some 3.3 billion trees each year over the next 30 years as a way to store carbon. The legislation, which has not received a vote in the House, highlights the GOP's focus on tree planting as a core component of its environmental messaging.
As ranking member, Westerman will take over the top Republican spot on a committee that has been aggressive in its oversight of the Interior Department under the Trump administration.
In an interview with The Hill in November, Westerman said the committee’s interest in oversight could diminish with the change in administration.
“If we look at this past Congress, basically every committee is trying to create some kind of a gotcha scenario with the administration. I think there needs to be strong oversight, but it doesn't need to be something that's abused,” he said, calling it an important role in the legislative branch.
“But anytime that oversight function is abused. I think it loses credibility.”
Westerman has been critical of Democrats on the committee for conducting business in a virtual setting at times.
He was one of several members to spearhead a letter criticizing Democrats on the committee for holding so-called committee forums hosted through the committee’s broadcasting system that excluded Republicans.
“These meetings, which have taken place without Minority involvement, are strictly partisan in nature. With titles such as 'Behind the Curtain: The Trump Administration's Fossil Fuel Agenda During the Pandemic,' Minority members and staff have not been given the opportunity to participate in the planning or execution of these meetings, much less offer a witness or prepare members,” Westerman wrote in the letter.
Olivia Beavers contributed.